SPOTLIGHT April 2024: LILY GLADSTONE, Actor and Activist

There is no denying 2023 was Lily Gladstone’s (she/they) breakout year. After acting for a decade in bit parts and as part of ensemble films, Gladstone’s name is the one on everyone’s lips thanks to their portrayal of Mollie Burkhart in The Killers of the Flower Moon. In a film dominated by men and lauded male talent like Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser, and director Martin Scorsese, it’s Gladstone’s performance that’s rightfully being singled out. Collecting numerous awards for their performance including the SAG Award, Golden Globe, and dozens of critics’ circle awards including Best Actress and Best Breakthrough Performance from AWFJ, Gladstone’s award run was capped off with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Though she’s not adding “Oscar winner” to her impressive credentials just yet, their star is definitely on the rise as a formidable on-screen talent.

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SPOTLIGHT March 2024: JUNE SQUIBB, Kickass Actress and Stuntwoman

There’s no question that women deal with sexism, misogyny, and ageism, particularly in the entertainment industry, but that has not stopped June Squibb. Now in her 90’s, tje Oscar-nominated Squibb stars in Thelma , an action thriller in which she performs her own stunts. She has no plans to slow down. She advises: “Don’t listen to other people. Believe in yourself, and do your own thing.” June Squibb is a testament to the power of determination, the value of standing in our own power, and knowing our own worth. She is an inspiration for all women, regardless of their career, and at any age.

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SPOTLIGHT February, 2024: Ava DuVernay, Filmmaker, Activist and Architect of our Reflections

Ava emerges as a beacon of narrative innovation and cultural introspection. She’s not just making films; she’s setting new standards. Ava has a knack for seeing things that others miss and giving a voice to stories that are too often left untold. Her films do more than challenge our thinking; they shatter the status quo and remold the fragments into works of Kintsugi—showing off our shine but never denying our sharp edges. The Alliance of Women Film Journalists celebrates Ava DuVernay for her indelible contribution to the art of storytelling and her pursuit of stories and initiatives that don’t just entertain but enlighten, empower, and embrace us.

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SPOTLIGHT December 2023: SUSANNE BIER, Award-Winning, Pond-Hopping, Genre-Diverse Director

Susanne Bier is among Europe’s most prolific and honored female film and television writer-directors. Her career filmography spans formats, genres and countries. Originally from Denmark, some of Bier’s best-known works, at least for international audiences, include Hollywood productions like Bird Box and In A Better World, and the Hollywood remakes of her original films, like Brothers and After the Wedding. Bier is said to be the first female director to win a Golden Globe (Best Picture, In A Better World), a Primetime Emmy (Directing, The Night Manager), a European Film Award (many, including Achievement in World Cinema in 2021) and an Oscar (Foreign Language Film, In a Better World). She currently co-chairs the Academy’s International Feature Film Executive Committee.

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SPOTLIGHT November 2023: Samy Burch, Screenwriter, MAY DECEMBER

One of the most serendipitous pairings in the film world this year is screenwriter Samy Burch and director Todd Haynes. If you’re thinking “Samy who?,” you’re not alone — Burch is best-known as a casting director, and she appears to have come out of nowhere with the superb screenplay for May December, the new Todd Haynes movie starring Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman. In fact, Burch is also a writer/director. The May December story was co-written by Burch and Alex Mechanik, a fellow filmmaker who happens to be her husband.

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SPOTLIGHT September 2023: Fran Drescher, Actor, Author, SAG-AFTRA Activist

She may have perfected the role of glamorous ditz, but Fran Drescher is actually a warrior. Known best for perennial favourite The Nanny, Drescher captured the attention of TV viewers for years and became fixed in the public consciousness as funny, fearless and feminist. In the last few months, Drescher has recaptured the spotlight in her role as President of SAG-AFTRA, a union leadership position to which she was elected in 2021. Initially, some doubted her ability to represent the massive 160,000-strong union membership —yes, a woman underestimated. When did that ever happen before?

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SPOTLIGHT August 2023: Judy Lung, Cinema PR Ace, TIFF Communications Chief

Judy Lung is a mensch and a mentor, always an oasis of calm and meticulous organization in what can be a frenetic industry. She is highly respected by the media and well-known as an ally to the press in Toronto and across Canada, and her recent appointment at TIFF was cause for celebration among reporters. As she takes her place in the important cultural institution that is the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s time to spread the word outside Canada and introduce Lung to an international audience.

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SPOTLIGHT July 2023: Jennifer Esposito, Actress, Baker, Teacher, Director of FRESH KILLS

Fresh Kills isn’t at all autobiographical, yet it’s all me, says first time writer/director Jennifer Esposito. “I did take pieces of people I grew up around and I used the essence of where I grew up to inform the characters’ world, but every character has some part of me in them. Staten Island, where I grew up and where the film takes place, felt very repressed and claustrophobic to me so that really influenced me when writing. The essence of the film is simple – it’s finding a voice in a world that tells you not to have one and I’ve felt that way my entire life.”

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SPOTLIGHT March, 2023: Kai Bowe, Programming Director, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network

Kai Bowe strives to create content and shepherd a variety of projects that entertain or comfort, as well as those that make change or impact the world for the better. She is someone who personally stands in her own power and walks the walk of striving to be better for herself, family, friends, and community. So many of the most influential Black creatives, including Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey, have incorporated “Each one Teach one”, and Kai continues to embrace that philosophy in all her projects. We at AWFJ so appreciate women who bring such positivity, talent, and inspiration to the world of film and TV!

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SPOTLIGHT February 2023: Yvonne Rainer, Experimental Filmmaker, Dancer and Choreographer

Yvonne Rainer is an experimental filmmaker whose unique and challenging film collages are informed by her extensive knowledge of and interest in progressive politics, philosophy, social issues, avant garde art and dance, and Hollywood films. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a MacArthur “genius” grant and the addition of Lives of Performers to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, demonstrating that living life on one’s own terms is not only possible, but also a key to success.

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